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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

my gripe with homework. and I do have one.


Kids have homework. I get that. It's good for them to practice what they've learned in school so the learning sets in.

What I don't get is homework that takes both parents, four college degrees between us, to figure it out and then teach it to our kid. That when we ask how the teacher explained it we are told the teacher never mentioned this type of problem before. This is new. The first time she's heard of it.

Okay, so maybe she wasn't paying attention. Maybe it was taught and she missed it altogether.

That's where my second gripe comes into play. The evenings when she understands the larger, underlying concept but the homework is presented in a quirky, confusing, hard-to-solve way. Which again, requires one or both parents trying to figure out what the heck the question is even asking, let alone how to derive at the correct answer.

It's those evenings I want to sit down with the writers of the workbook and ask, What were you thinking? Were you at the last fade of your morning caffeine buzz, that point where your head starts to nod and your legs get restless and your mind starts to wonder if what's left on the bagel cart?

Or were you just smoking too much crack?

But let's leave the amphetamine-addicted, hallucinogenic-dropping, educational book developers alone for the time being.

Let's talk about my main issue.

It's the fact that my daughter is lucky enough to have two educated, willing, at-home, sober parents spending concentrated time helping her figure it out.

It's the fact that I'm well aware that too many kids don't have this advantage. This help at home. This step up.

And don't get me started on the projects. The projects where I can tell that the parent and child spent one day together buying twenty dollars worth of nifty, crafty materials at Michaels and then the next day assembling. Or was that Mom assembling for five hours and child losing interest after the second hour? Because that neatly-painted, sequin-studded, velvet-striped catepillar was not a first grader's doing.

My favorite science projects have always been the ones hand-written in #2 pencil standing bravely next to the Photo-Shopped, Excel-Charted, Word-Doc Wonders.

So my question is one that I know concerns a lot of caring parents, educators and therapists:

What about the kids who come from a chaotic, abusive ... nobody's home ... home? How fair is it to these kids that homework can't be completed without help? And they've got nobody at home to help them?

Or maybe they come home to a mom in a drunken rage or a dad hitting a mom in a drunken rage or a grandmother who can't pull herself away from her soaps or an uncle who can't stay out of the kid's bedroom at night.

Yes, my kids get good grades. I'm proud of them and their effort and abilities. I'm proud of myself being an involved parent, especially on those nights when I'd rather be at Antone's jamming to some blues.

But I'm not proud of an educational system that rewards parents who do the teaching. Or workbooks with assignments that require adult-hands-on-deck to decipher.

A too hard assignment leaves out too many kids. Too many kids whose grades reflect not what they can do but what they can't have: a nurturing home life. For that, they've already paid a heavy price. I don't want them paying twice, in the form of substandard grades.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

what if we had named you ______ ?



One of Magpie's Musings about naming children made me think about one of the favorite recurring dinner table discussions around my house.

What if we had named you _____?

Throughout most of my first pregancy, my son was going to be Nicholas. Wouldn't be called Nick. Would most definately not be called Nicky. Nicholas.

But then family members got wind and we started hearing about "little Nick" and "how's baby Nicky doing?" Face to face with the potential inevitability (oxymoronic, just a little?) of losing control over the child's name.

So we dropped Nicholas.

In favor of a name with low risk nickname potential.

Although it does have a nickname and I call him the nickname even though he doesn't like it now that he's a teen and has asked me not to call him that anymore. I try. Really I do. But it keeps slipping out. Moms are allowed to use pet names in the privacy of her own home, aren't they? I mean, aren't there some privileges earned for all those months of pregnancy? All those late night feedings? Diaper changes?

When my son learned of his almost-name, he made the ugliest face. Which, of course, leads to the suggestion, "If your name WAS Nicholas, you would have turned your nose at your current name." To which he defiantly says, "No I wouldn't. I'd wish you had called me that instead."

One for Dickens, I suppose. Ghost of Names Past.

Each of our kids, while not named directly after anyone, has a name that has some family significance.

My son's given name is a derivative of Ira. My husband's grandfather was Ira. A horse trader, Ira. When we saw that reference, we knew the name had to be.

Ira was the stuff of myth making. The man who lived the simple life. Cooked on a wood stove. Ate eggs fried in lard everyday but kept a rock hard belly. Sat on his front porch, his gallery in the hill country, and shot deer for his dinner as he rocked in his rocking chair. Ira who did time in the penitentiary for making moonshine during the depression. Story goes he didn't drink it himself. Sold it to feed his ten kids. When Ira was in prison, the moonshine customers came by the homestead with parcels of food for the abandoned family.

My son's middle name is one of the surames on my mother's family tree. I don't know anyone in my family with that name but I like to think he's named after warm, loving ancestors rather than someone reviled. The risk of choosing a name, any name, off the family tree.

I like the tradition of giving the mother's maiden name as a middle name. We played around with giving almost-Nicholas my maiden name (my kept name, as I didn't change my name when I married) as a middle name. But then decided not to blow the whole wad with the first child. First born children come into this world with so much gravitas. Let's save a bit for the second born. This was the plan for three years.

But then we found out we were having twins. What to do? One of them carries the Mom's surname and not the other? Distinct potential of coming back to haunt me in the favoritism accusations.

Both get the same middle name? A little over-the-top, if not George Foreman-esque.

So here's what we did. BabyA's middle name is a derivative of my last name (think John instead of Johnson). BabyB has my middle name.

It seemed like a fair divide. But in the end, nobody has my maiden name. Ah well. There's always hope for a grandchild? (Are you reading this, sweet children?)

As for given names, BabyA's name is a feminized version of her grandfather's nickname. And also a wild woman of west Texas.

BabyB is named after the county where Ira the horsetrader lived. Sam came up with that one. He first heard the name from the niece of a friend. Liked it. And it happened to be the name of the county where Sam has such fond memories of his growing up years.

So then it was settled. All the kids first names came from Dad. All the kids middle names came from Mom. We didn't set out to achieve this end. But there you have it.

And back to the dinner table discussions. My kids love to ask, "what were some other names you came up with?"

There was Audra, Maggie, Molly, Holly, Hunter, Richard. None are family names. Just names one of us liked. These almost-names are always met with some combination of fascination and repugnance.

All in all, I'm glad we stuck with the names we've got. And so are they.

How about you, reader? How did you come up with your kids names? What are your "we-almost-named-you" stories? Do you ever look back and wish you had kept a discarded name? Wonder if this child's life would have been different?


Update: My son read this post and later asked me, Mom! Why didn't you name me Ira?!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

green stamp sex lamp

A few days weeks months ago, Mary M. posted on the Women's Colony about her boyfriend's heirloom table lamp. She feared that when he moved in, "that hideous lamp is probably going to be the first thing he carries through the doorway." If her boyfriend is anything like my husband, Sam, he will be carrying his ugly-ass lamp straight to his urn.

On his bedside table, Sam has what he likes to call the sex lamp. It looks like this:




Yes, that's right. You saw correctly. The sex lamp looks like this:




Now, I ask you, is there anything even remotely sexy about this lamp? Of course not. But then, that's not why he calls it the sex lamp.

I laid eyes on this luminary gem soon after meeting Sam. I found it endearing, assuming as I did at the time that it represented his post-divorce poverty. But it remains on his side of the bed to this day, after many years of post-nuptial combined income bliss.

And you only thought you had bedroom decor issues.

Design challenges aside, this lamp has a strong fluorescent bulb. So bright it could light up Yankee Stadium.

Now, if there's one thing everyone in the porn industry can agree on, it's that fluorescent lighting is sexy. Says this highly sensitive person who cringes under the charged mercury vapors.

Be that as it may, I agreed to allow the sex lamp in our shared bedroom when he held it aloft and shouted "from my cold dead hands!" said he planned on keeping it. I agreed in a pleasing manner that succeeded in appearing sincere, even. I agreed because the lamp holds sentimental value for him. He acquired the lamp as a mere lad in grade school. Traded green stamps for it, even. I agreed because my feminist values dictate that home decor is not the sole dominion of women. And I agreed because, as I figured it, old lamps burn out.

But twenty years later? That butt ugly lamp is still burning.


I am finding, much to my emotional detriment, that there is truth in the old maxim: They sure don't make 'em like they used.

So why does he call it the sex lamp, you are wondering? Well, here it is. The bright spot in all of this lamp lunacy. When the sex lamp is turned on? So are my husband's good intentions. And so am I. He likes to see what he's doing when he's working his magic. And work it he does.

Which leads me to my own personal maxim: An agreement made is an agreement kept.

In short, I'm stuck with the lamp.

Until the bulb burns out. Because in this case, I don't believe in fixin' that which is broke.

And now, good reader, PLEASE please leave a comment with your sure-fire, covert means of hastening the demise of an ancient, obnoxious flourescent light bulb.

And if you haven't already, stop by The Women's Colony where this, and other real women sexplorations appear.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

leaps better

Philadelphia, PA


Thanks for all of the well wishes, bloggy friends. I'm not sure if this cold was a mild one, but it was certainly short lived. Maybe it was because I took my own advice, for once, and drank gallons of water. Or maybe all of those zinc lozenges I was sucking on day and night actually worked. Or maybe I was just exaggerating my symptoms all along because of all the peace and quiet perks.

But, the why-come isn't so important. It's the feeling leaps better that is. And relieved this cold did not turn into three weeks worth of annoying hacking cough, like they usually do.

One funny thing that happened during my woe-is-me convalescence. I switched from my usual habit of drinking decaff-mocha-coffee to green tea.

For the past few years, at least, a cup of green tea held about as much appeal for me as a jump into an ice cold lake. But I started drinking it because it was lighter than my coffee-candy concoction, and, bonus points, healthier.

Now that I'm pretty close to back to normal, I've started adding vanilla flavored soy milk to my green tea, something that sounded horrible to me three weeks ago but now tastes reallllly good.

Weird. Tastes come and go for me. I'm used to that. But this is a big switch. Right now it's all I think about. Heating up water for my daily two three four cups of green tea.

How about you, reader? Any radical shifts in food or drink obsessions preferences lately?


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

cold sung blues



I'm down with a cold. Or at least I'm pretty sure it's a cold, as opposed to an acute case of allergies.

Did I catch it from my husband, who had laryngitis two weeks ago, followed by persistent stuffy nose and cough?

Did I catch it from my neighbor, who had an upper respiratory infection, coughing next to me in my car, reassuring me she was no longer infectious?

Did I catch it from my client, who, just last week, wondered aloud if her symptoms were due to allergies or a cold?

No matter, right? It's got me, whatever it is. Whomever it's from.

I opted to cancel several appointments. Today was a long, full day of too many clients back-to-back. I kept three appointments in the middle of the day. And then, as luck would have it, one of the three kept appointments called to cancel, leaving a voice message, "I've got a cold." Of course, it had to be the middle appointment.

So I ended up seeing two patients. One who was kind enough to come in early. I headed to the office with relief. Two appointments sounded entirely doable. Or so I thought.

Everyone knows my job involves listening. But it also involves talking, in between listening. It was in the middle of one of these, my-turn-to-talk turns, that I found out that my cold is much easier to abide when I keep my mouth shut.

Talking brought on fierce bouts of coughing, sputtering, eye-watering and nose running. Where the intake of breath between coughs brought on even more severe fits of coughing. Undignified and unprofessional slobberring attacks.

Do you know the kind of hacking, tickling, choking cough I mean? The only thing that prevents these cough attacks is to (1) drink one cup of hot tea after another, or (2) continously suck on Moutain Herb Reeeeee-Co-Laaaas.

Fortunately, the cough attacks occurred during my second appointment. Meaning, soon after, I was able to pack up and head home. Very relieved that I hadn't pressed my luck.

So now I'm home, alone in my room, comfortably blogging and blowing my nose and puffing,

gleefully allowing the husband to deal with dinner prep and the kids: their homework, after school pick-ups, their squabbles.

All was well and good until Sam was off playing Taxi-Cab Dad. When I heard this urgent shout,

"Mo-Ommmmmmmmmmm!"

I jumped up, heart racing, laptop-sy-turvy,

"What is it?!" I yelled back.

"Oh, nothing. I just wondered where you were."

Argh.

But other than the one panic inducing interruption? I have to say?

I rather like my quiet exile.
Cold or no.

"Leave Mom alone," I hear Sam telling one of the kids.

(Who among us doesn't liken these words to the sound of heavenly choirs of angels singing?)

"Leave Mom alone. She's not feeling good."

Ahhhhhhhh.

Little do they know my well-kept secret.

That right now?

I'm feeling damned good.